During My Army Years

In early-December of 2017, my grandson J. asked for my help in a class project. His assignment was to record an adult’s recollection of an experience, and then to narrate it to the class. I began to sift through my life, looking for something suitable. To help, I wrote a column of numbers on the back of an envelop -- each number represented a year in my life. When I got up to 20, I knew that there were a lot of things here that would be interesting to a 12-year-old.

My Time in the Army: 1966-1970

I am not convinced that joining the Army is a good idea. However, when I was twenty, the Government told me I was about to be drafted, so I volunteered in hopes of a better deal.

So I served four years of “active duty”. You could say that I “gave up” some of the best years of my life, from age twenty to twenty-four. But it is impossible to know what would have happened to me if I had remained a civilian during that time, so there’s no way to compare.

Compared to what many other soldiers have to go through though, my situation in the Army was fortunate. First, I had six weeks of “Basic Training”, i.e., beginning combat training. But then I was sent to the Language School at Monterey California, to study Polish for an entire year. Finally, after some months of additional training, I was stationed in Bavaria, Germany, for the rest of the time.

My year in Monterey, California was interesting. I was young, foolish, and headstrong, but still able to keep up with the language studies. My Polish was about a B+, my pronunciation was exceptional, and studying the language was quite interesting to me, and we had the advantage of being taught by native speakers, foreign nationals, who started out as refugees, either form WW II or from the Communist regime, known as the “Iron Curtain”. Soldiers of Polish descent, who might have known Polish, were not used for their language skills, because there was fear that their families back in the home country could be exploited by the Communists.

The Monterey Language School was officially called the D.L.I.W.C. (Defense Language Institute of the West Coast). We studied about six solid hours per day, and then after any other chores, we had leisure time, usually at night or on weekends. I had my violin, and I used to play at the post chapel for services. Also, we had a Polish language choir, and we performed a couple of times at Christmas events.

Also, during off-hours, I would wander around the city of Monterey, often with a violin or mandolin in tow. Sometimes, I would go into a church building, where they let me practice on the piano, and I got pretty good at playing a couple of Bach preludes and fugues.

It was an interesting town, with a lot of history. The landscape and year-round balmy climate were quite different from what I was used to as a Detroiter. There was Cannery Row, an old canning district, which was depicted in John Steinbeck’s famous literary novella of the same name. I spent a lot of time walking around. Cannery Row at this time (the “sixties”) was no longer a canning district, and most of the warehouses and factories had been taken over as either artist lofts or boutique restaurants. I remember spending some time at a restaurant called “Kallissa’s”, which inside had a large mural of the owner, Kalissa in a flowing gown. She would let me go into a corner closet-like room and practice there. Once a beatnik accompanied me on a washtub Bass. There were many Asian immigrants in Monterey, there on the West Coast. I struck up a friendship with a Chinese girl, though her parents discouraged us from dating, probably wisely. Eventually, she gave me a kind of embarrassing present in the form of a cheap plastic toy violin. Soon afterward we parted ways, though not because of the silly present.

Ever since the start of the sixties, a major cultural change had been going on in popular music, with Dylan, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and all the other groups finding their voice. You could here it ringing from all the coffee houses and young people’s private stereos booming in the open windows. During time off I used to hike around the Monterey Peninsula with my mandolin, wishfully masquerading as a civilian itinerant musician, although my close-cropped military haircut was a dead giveaway. Some GI’s, I had heard, wore wigs on the weekends to be part of the hippie scene.

Eventually it was time to pack up and move on to my next phase of training. That was going to be in Fort Devens, near Boston. This next phase had to do with learning techniques of locating enemy radio stations. I didn’t take much interest in it, and probably did not excel.

Fort Devens was a little more drab and more strict than what I had gone through in Monterey. It was a large post and there were combat units among us. Some things I enjoyed. For example, one battalion there would march through the grounds every night with its own expert in-unit drummers. I am not a hawk, but the sight and sound of this spectacle was a thrill that I haven’t experienced before or since.

At Fort Devens, many of us were kept waiting for months while the Army decided when and where to ship us out. People from the Language School like me were called “Monterey Marys”, because our duty was not as “real” as infantry. During this time, I and others awaiting orders were assigned to permanent kitchen duty, getting up around 4 AM every day. Eventually, I was getting tired of this military life, and I thought, somewhat naively, that I could desert the Army and become a hippy, -- live in San Francisco, were all the “beautiful people” were going. .Meanwhile, at Fort Devens, there was talk of transferring some of us to infantry units.

In the battalion I was in, there was one platoon called the Menehunis. The soldiers in this platoon were all Hawaiian. It was designed this way, because they were on a special project to play the role of Viet Cong (enemy Vietnamese soldiers) in war exercises at Fort Devens. It was organized along racial lines. The usual routine was to send some soldiers (non-Menehuni) into the forest. There, the Menehuni would try to capture these soldiers, scare the hell out of them and give them electric shocks. It was supposed to prepare people for being shipped off to Vietnam. So if you were selected, you knew what the next step was. I heard in later years that these same Menehuni actually worked on a fictional film about Vietnam with the well-known macho actor, John Wayne.

It was now 1968. I was not selected for shipment to Vietnam, but still I kept thinking about leaving the Army scene. Eventually, I got to talking with a friend, who really hated the Army and was determined to quit. We decided to leave together and start hitchhiking west. My vague hope was to get to San Francisco, and just lose myself in the crowded Haight-Ashbury district. My friend wanted to go to Corpus Christi, Texas, his hometown. I brought my violin. He brought a prized album of the Doors. (That was impractical because in those days most people, including him, didn’t have portable machines that would play vinyl LPs.) We hitchhiked together as far as Atlanta, Georgia. Dressed in civilian clothes, as is usually the case with off-duty soldiers.

Outside of both being anti-authoritarian, the two of us didn’t have that much in common. He was a big, blustering hulk, - stereotypical of a belligerent Texan. I was an amateur violin-player who had delusions of creating a new kind of pop music. In Georgia, we booked a motel room. I got out my violin to practice. He warned me never to take that instrument out of its case again. Eventually, we decided to part ways. He, apparently, went on down to Corpus Christi.

I started to feel paranoid, thinking that people were looking for me. I realized I didn’t have a plan. Under ASA rules, if I were gone more than four days, I would be kicked out of my unit, lose my clearance, and be given a more dismal assignment.

I decided to return to the base. It was a warm sunny day. I bought a nice comfortable short-sleeved shirt in a downtown department store. I cashed my Army paycheck I had brought from Massachusetts. My heart thumped because I thought they would somehow trace me through the check, even though their data-systems were pretty rudimentary by today’s standards.

I bought a plane ticket back. It was evening when I turned myself in. The person on duty locked me up together with another offender already under arrest. This poor young man had tried to overdose on a bottle of aspirin, and they were punishing him by making him sweep the room, etc. I talked to this depressed person for awhile, I felt a solidarity with him, and it seemed that just by my companionship I was giving him some hope. The guard, however, warned me to stop talking to him.

For this experience, I was reduced one pay grade, and had to forfeit an additional amount of my pay. I stood at attention when he announced my punishment, and he also told me to stand still and stop rocking back and forth, which I did. I am not saying whether I regret this episode, but if I had it to do over again I might do it differently.

Life went on as before, and soon enough I was given a two-week leave in Detroit and then shipped off to Germany. I worked in a warehouse-like building, flipping the dial on a huge radio (this was before the era of miniaturization). After a few months of locating and taping live Polish Army radio communications, I got the gravy job upstairs of listening to the magnetic tape and typing out what I heard on six-ply paper. Others said they would get my job when I finally went crazy. It never happened.

Memories for the New Year



Old Holiday Songs:   Polka Band

Letter to Santa


Come Back For Christmas



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Glimpse of Music for the Animals


Life In Tacoma

Cotters Playing Violin, Bass

At the Feast of Saint Francis


EDB et al. vs. Save Tacoma Water

Two local business organizations, together with the Port of Tacoma, have joined in a lawsuit to halt the ballot efforts of Save Tacoma Water, a citizen conservation group. In addition, the plaintiffs ask that Save Tacoma Water be ordered to pay their legal expenses.

Save Tacoma Water’s signature-gathering is almost complete, and the petitions are expected to be turned in by June 15th, unless barred by the court.

The ballot initiatives would require voter approval of any new application for water rights in excess of one million gallons per day. That idea was born last year as part of the grassroots opposition to the now defeated mega-methanol plant, which by design would have consumed ten million gallons of fresh water per day.

In announcing the lawsuit, the "business leaders" cite both legal and ideological grounds. Their press release mentions as precedent a case in Spokane, in which people’s local water rights were supposedly thrown out of court. Of course, any available legal strategies will be employed, if they seem to have a bearing on the case.

However, the main emphasis in the press announcement is the notion that the proposed initiatives would "chill economic development in the county if they are allowed to go to a public vote, whether or not they passed."

Of 6,000 commercial users of Tacoma water, only two currently meet the extreme threshold of one million gallons per day. One of them is the well known paper mill, responsible in large part for the "Aroma of Tacoma" stigma of yesteryear. The other is the amusingly-named Niagara Bottling Company, which continued to buy a million gallons a day during last summer’s drought.

So where’s the economic chill? In other words, what type of business would have a problem? If anything, the presence of new polluting industries in a residential area, squandering water during a period of draught, could be a severe economic burden.

Truth is the first casualty in any war, including a propaganda war. Anti-business bias is a charge commonly invoked whenever the Chamber of Commerce (one of the plaintiffs) feels its investment schemes may have to be scrutinized.

Accordingly, it is the danger of a stifled business environment -- not the legal case -- that is given the most schrift in their media publicity. Bruce Kendall, CEO of the Economic Development Board, says "The fact that it’s illegal and unconstitutional is, from our perspective, almost beside the point."

Translation: The profits of the wealthy elite must be protected from public needs, so they are making up any technicality to defeat democracy.

Residents of Tacoma, Federal Way and other communities look out on the waters of Puget Sound and they see a finite life-giving resource, threatened with drought, as we learned last year. Members of the corporate establishment look out and see a chance for a vast windfall.

The most recent news is that the Tacoma City Attorney, who in March helped prepare the ballot initiative and carefully shepherded it through the legal roadmap, has suddenly decided to join the lawsuit of the political business networks. What could have caused her change of heart?

A letter from Jeff Milchen to the 4/18 New Yorker expresses it quite well: "America’s independent businesses -- especially those serving local residents -- have more in common with average citizens than with the giant corporations that hold so much sway over our courts and legislative bodies."

Reminiscence

I had time to kill that morning, so I had myself dropped of at a coffee shop. I wanted to linger.

They were serving breakfast, so I had an egg. Afterwards, there was brisk table turnover, so I was expected to leave. In America, you must move on.

I remember well, sitting on the bench in front of the old yellow Shell station-store, sipping on the coffee I had just bought there. It was not too chilly, and the sun was out, as I watched the homeless come and go.

I was probably remembering the past then too. Maybe mornings on Englewood, where you could hear two church bells moving in and out of synch. There was no nicer sound.

Soon afterward, life moved on, leaving me running to catch up.

NPR Reporting on the Presidential Race

Feedback to Morning Edition

9/3: On the occasion of Joe Biden's speech at Dade College, Greg Allen reports on the possibility of a Biden Presidential bid. He ponders what effect a Biden entry would have on the Clinton campaign. Attendees in Miami are sampled on their feelings about whether Biden should run.


To add interest to the story, Allen mentions Dick Cheney's advice that the Democrats need to have more Presidential candidates.

How about Lincoln Chasey, Martin O'Malley, Jim Webb, and BERNIE SANDERS?? The Democrats don't need 17 candidates.


Cartoon by Adam Zyglis of the Buffalo News.

Higher Plane Possible

I have gotten along this far, but now I think I can improve. Heretofore, my writing has been hit-or-miss, with a lot of digressions following on one another like neglected shoots of an untended lilac bush. Now, I believe, I can clarify my ideas and trim off what's extraneous.

Project of Yesterday

Yesterday I finished a little project for one of my friends. She needed to extract emails from her online email server and turn in this info for legal evidence. Linking her email account in Outlook allowed mass-printing of the emails. The Freeware Bull Zip print software rolls the mass-selected email printouts to a PDF file for convenient viewing. I did lose sleep over this, but the initial stress one feels about the beginning of a project spurs one on to accomplishment, and is balanced by the relief and satisfaction when the project is complete.

February Dream

Yesterday:

We're starting to pack for a household move, and I run across an old broken timex wristwatch. I see that it can't be fixed, and I throw it out.

Later I have a negroni.

Nighttime:

Toward morning, I have a dream: Our family is staying in France, and we are a group of about five adults and five children, 12 years old and younger. It is morning, and it is my turn to go out and get take-home breakfast for everybody.

Walking around on foot, I begin to realize that I am lost. I don't recognize any of the buildings, and it looks like a strange neighborhood.

After some time, I start to worry that people are going to want their breakfast..the hungry children waiting for their pastries.

I pick up my phone to call my wife. It is a weird foreign watch/phone with a circular-shaped display on a watch dial -- the pre-entered contact phone numbers are in strange rotating pie-segments. In the indistinct light, I stab at the number which looks like my wife's, but I miss. Finally, I try to enter the number from scratch: 987-8495. I flub it and fumble with the phone. Suddenly it is mangled, the glass cover is ripped off, the bent hands look like broken insect antennae.

I become more anxious as I try to figure out what to do next. I seem to remember that the charcuterie was near where we were staying. As I am walking along, I notice a stranger who looks like an American -- equally bewildered as I am. I ask her in English, "Do you know where the charcuterie is?"

"I'm not sure, but I think it's this way," she says, pointing in a direction opposite to the way we are walking.

Motherhood

Mother's Day was proclaimed a national holiday in 1914 after the prolonged efforts of Anne Jarvis. Ms. Jarvis wanted to honor the work of her own mother, a peace activist, "who had cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil War and created Mother's Day Work Clubs," says Wikipedia.

The current Mother's Day is not about peace per se, but still carries moral force, because it celebrates the ideals and promise of motherhood and domesticity. In a thank-you note to President Wilson, Jarvis spoke of a "great Home Day of our country for sons and daughters to honor their mothers and fathers and homes in a way that will perpetuate family ties and give emphasis to true home life." Incidentally, this holiday is also a testimony to the feminist efforts of Anne Jarvis, who, though childless herself, devoted many years of activist campaigning to honor motherhood, create the holiday, and oppose the subsequent commercialistic Hallmarkisation of it.

My mother is doing well at 98, and I am grateful to be able to visit her. At the same time, I would never praise her for reaching a particular notch in time. That has the effect of disrespecting anyone who died at a younger age.

To illustrate my thinking, let me quote Barbara Ehrenreich in a recent "Fresh Air" interview: "I would never call myself a cancer survivor because I think it devalues those who do not survive. There's this whole mythology that people bravely battle their cancer and then they become survivors. Well, the ones who don't survive may be just as brave, you know, just as courageous, wonderful people. And I don't feel that I have any, you know, leg up on them."

True my father died from lung cancer at 77, and my mother was lucky not to have ever smoked. But I wouldn't say that my mother "managed her life better". To castigate a shorter or more difficult life is unkind and a failure of wisdom. What is the measure of the value of a person's life anyway? We will never know. I must note that in the last visit this Spring my mother remembered the awesome physical strength and energy my father brought to his work. I mean "awesome"; not "like, awesome, man".

In recognizing the phenomenon of motherhood, it is also important to see people realistically, facing the challenges of life. To conclude, here's another quote from another novelist I haven't read -- Barbara Kingsolver -- regarding her book Flight Behavior: "Motherhood is so sentimentalised and romanticised in our culture. It's practically against the law to say there are moments in the day when you hate your children. Everyone actually has those moments. So to create this mother, who loves her children, of course, but is just so fed up of living in a house with people who roll plastic trucks on the floor, was a writing challenge."

Life in Tacoma, Spring


Life In Tacoma

The alley behind the house is useful for family activities.

The whole family gathered around to help the older brother carry out his project.


Technical Hurdles

First I had to figure out the working of the movie editing software on the old XP that I work on. To make the full-screen texts, I chose white on black because that looked cool, like the old silent celluloids that I used to see on TV in the '50s.

The next step was getting them on line. I could have just put them on Youtube, but I decided I wanted to host them on my own website, because the emerging html [browser] code was making that easier to do. Also, I wanted to learn best practices for this, as it could come in handy for future jobs.

My wife said, "Why reinvent the wheel?", a legitimate question, But in the background, my thinking was, "Why does everything have to be posted on Youtube? With new html tools, we are beyond that. It's like back in the '50s, when all music had to be on AM radio. "

No matter that spiritually we're living in the Dark Ages.

Anyway, putting the film up on the website meant making it readable in all major browsers. Different browsers read different video formats.

But the helper website, w3schools.com, has a good example that I adopted. The code offers successive video formats until the browser picks one that works. Of course, I had to convert the file into three different formats, and put each one out on my website. That part was simple, since I already had conversion software.

And then there's that case of older browsers (such as IE8), that cannot handle the new code. For these, it just drops through to Youtube, so I had to upload a contingency version there for that purpose.

After that, there was still some back-and-forth. It turns out that in making my .mp4 version I chose a compression ratio that is not standard for most of the browsers. So they would pick .mp4 but it wouldn't play.

So after I redid all of this, there is still a minor problem: When the webpage loads, and waits for the user to start the movie, IE9 doesn't display a still from the movie like I expected it to. But I figured out that that's because the beginning frame of the movie is totally black: it's the opening of the title screen before it fades in. Something to keep in mind for a later time.

In spite of all this rigamarole, the "modern" code, HTML5, makes hosting your own videos a lot easier than it used to be. Just a few years ago, to do this you had to have your own extra dedicated server running.


About This Video

A few days ago, M. sent us two short clips together with an explanation about the project. I decided it would be nice if I put them out there so anybody could watch them without having to open and download email attachments.

I wanted to combine the two clips into one, and post it online. That took me a while, as I am a novice in movies,

After some fooling around, I got what I wanted. The liveliness and clarity of the original clips made it easy for me, and I did not excise anything.

Once I got everything up, there was another problem: My website hosting service, Bluehost.com, went down. It was temporary, but it was annoying.

One angry bluehost customer on a rant blog crabbed that this was "just the last straw" and he was going to move all of his sites to GoDaddy.com because he was getting so much better service there.

The owner of GoDaddy.com is the guy who goes to Africa and shoots down aging female elephants just for fun. Putinesque. That's the site that uses sleazy strippers in its ads. It was recently featured in the Superbowl halftime circus. I can't remember any worse media experience, unless it was the weeklong corporate-funded funeral of Ronald Reagan.

I would never use GoDaddy.com. I actually had to work on a website hosted there, and I moved it out of there as soon as I could: It's the worst, most disorganized web-hosting service I have ever seen.

*  *  *

Summary

A lot of work for a one-minute video, huh?

And all of this doesn't matter in the real world because only about five people ever saw the video, in the continuing Facebook scramble for attention.

Of course, these issues pale in comparison to the major problems facing the world on every front right now.

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